Hidden Gems in Europe – Travel Dudes

You could travel and explore the typical highlights of Europe… But why don’t you visit these hidden gems in Europe as well?

When thinking about a trip in Europe, your first thoughts are probably the big cities of Europe like visiting Paris, Barcelona, Prague or going sailing Croatia. But, there’s a lot more to Europe to discover than these hot spots.

If you’re looking for somewhere quieter, check out these hidden gems in Europe.

The best hidden gems in Europe

Skip the crowds and check out these secret spots in Europe.

Cinigiano, Italy

100 kilometers south of Florence, this small corner of Tuscan wine country has managed to its keep old-world charms while producing some of the most striking new-school Super Tuscan wines.

Breathtaking views of endless fields and vineyards, even better at sunset, are around practically every corner. Yet somehow, the crush of crowds isn’t.

Tour organic family-run vineyards like Cantina Basile or live royally while staying at the Castello di Vicarello. It’s all truly divine.

Another lovely place to visit nearby is the vineyards of Chianti.

Hidden gem in Italy, Cinigiano
Cinigiano, Italy

Roanne, France

Foodies will find eating their way across the French countryside is a breeze, no matter where they go. But those serious about top-notch gastronomy cannot miss Roanne, home of the Troisgros family and of Maison Troisgos, a restaurant that foodie bible Gault Millau referred to as the best in the entire world.

Those who prefer to sharpen their own skills in the kitchen can attend The Ecole des Trois Ponts, a famous nearby cooking school.

Take a stroll by the Loire river to walk off the calories, and enjoy some of the historical architecture.

Here are a few other trips in France that aren’t Paris.

Lappeenranta, Finland

Closer to Saint Petersburg than to Helsinki, Lappeenranta draws a fair share of visitors from nearby during the summer months. A short drive from Saimaa, the fourth largest lake in all of Europe, travelers come for boat cruises and sunbathing during the warmer months.

But there are plenty of great ways to spend the day that don’t involve fishing or swimming. A bustling central market, ancient fortress, and plenty of museums and other cultural attractions mean there’s never a dull moment in this curious Scandinavian city.

Winter brings low temperatures and plentiful skiing, snowmobiling, and sledding.

Another hidden gem in Finland is Hossa National Park.

Lappeenranta - Hidden gems in Europe
Lappeenranta, Finland

Cotas, Portugal

A couple years back, Portugal’s Duoro Valley was anointed the next Napa, and while the international market might not have reacted accordingly, wine lovers and fans of peaceful vistas overlooking rolling hills will fall in love once they visit.

The small town of Cotas is predominantly known for Quinta da Romaneira, where old-world decor is preserved but cutting-edge fermenting tanks and materials are used to help local vines step up their game.

It’s a perfect luxury retreat for travelers looking to be pampered somewhere other than the typical European haunts.

Abisko, Sweden

This secluded Lapland town might not immediately seem like a must-see spot, but that’s before travelers take into account its Arctic Circle location – definitely one of the hidden gems in Europe.

Photographers, nature-lovers, and anyone who wants a mind-blowing experience should make the pilgrimage to Abisko National Park, one of the best spots in the world to catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis (Northern Lights). Shimmering curtains of bright green and blue dance across the sky for hours during the winter months, and clear skies mean an even more stunning spectacle.

For those who are serious about their viewing experience, booking an overnight with the Aurora Sky Station is a must. Check out these accommodation options.

European hidden gem in Sweden
Abisko, Sweden


Discover the Mysteries Hidden in the Painting of the Last Supper by Da Vinci

Milan, in Northern Italy, has so much more to offer than the boutiques and football, its roads are steeped with history, and there are so many churches and cathedrals to see and absorb the culture.

Milan also offers relaxation from all the sightseeing strains in the way of its many spas. Or take a gondola trip around the labyrinth of Milan’s canals, something which this Italian city is less well known for. There is no shortage of things to enthrall and captivate in this admirable place.

Or, you can witness the painting of The Last Supper by Da Vinci.

Painting of The Last Supper by Da Vinci
Painting of The Last Supper by Da Vinci

Experiencing the painting of The Last Supper by Da Vinci

It has to be noted that one of the unmissable attractions of Milan, is Da Vinci’s masterpiece, The Last Supper. This has always been one of the most famous paintings in the world since its creation in the 15th century. Interest has risen even more significantly since the publication of Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code in 2003.

Tickets for the Last Supper are very popular, and sell out quickly, often weeks in advance, so it is advisable to book your Last Supper tickets early if you intend to see this world famous controversy for yourself. Only a certain number of people can visit the Last Supper masterpiece in one day, so as to preserve it, so make sure you don’t miss out.

The Last Supper painting is kept in the Santa Maria delle Grazie (Holy Mary of Grace – Wikipedia) church. The church itself is a alluring tourist attraction and definitely worth a visit. It is one of the most grand churches of the Lombard Renaissance, and took 20 years to build.

It is worth looking at the various tours which operate around Milan, and combine the Last Supper tickets with some other fun excursions to make the most of your day. Other interesting things to do include La Scala Opera House, the world renowned opera house, and Corso Venezia, a fashionable street.

This tour by Get Your Guide, includes the Duomo and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in central Milan and Milan’s renowned opera house, La Scala – plus, guaranteed tickets to see the painting of The Last Supper.

Book your Last Supper tickets early

Remember to purchase your Last Supper tickets before your trip to ensure you don’t miss anything.

Discover more of Leonardo da Vinci’s Milan by exploring more of his work throughout the city, including the Sforza Castle, Biblioteca Ambrosiana and Museo Poldi Pezzoli.


Hidden Spain: Ribeira Sacra, the Secret of the Monks

A deep gorge crosses the land. At the top, Romanesque monasteries watch the horizon and a bunch of viewpoints offer magnificent views. Looking down, oaks, chestnuts and vineyards cover the stepped hillsides.

Everything in Ribeira Sacra invites one to breathe, relax and feel alive.

Let me show you why Ribeira Sacra is a candidate to be listed as Cultural Landscape World Heritage, and a perfect destiny for a retreat travel.   

It’s one of the less known beautiful places in Spain.

A Capela viewpoint at Ribeira Sacra, Spain.
A Capela viewpoint at Ribeira Sacra, Spain.

Ribeira Sacra means the sacred banks of the river. In fact, the magic of this land turns around 2 main rivers: Miño and Sil.

River Sil carves during its last 35 kms granite walls as deep as 600 Mts in some areas. Then, it runs into River Miño, near Os Peares.  The natural force of river Sil is soothed by a few dams, making pleasant boat trips possible – a wonderful way to discover the canyon. 

A complete route in the region should include: monasteries, viewpoints and nature, vineyards, traditional towns and local cuisine.

How many days? Consider at least 5.  

The Viewpoints to admire Ribeira Sacra

We can count at least 36 amazing viewpoints where to admire the Ribeira Sacra.

They are distributed all along the two main rivers: Miño and Sil.

It could take you a while to stop at every viewpoint, that’s why it’s a good idea to pick a bunch of them, especially if you are visiting Ribeira Sacra for a short period of time.

These ones below are my favourite ones: 

Pena do Castelo Viewpoint
Pena do Castelo Viewpoint
  • Cabo do Mundo and Cabezoás, the first one above the most famous meander of River Miño, the second one watching another meander, of river Sil, in this case.
  • Pena do Castelo, A Capela and As Penas de Matacá, showing the best views over the cultivated terraces and the river. 
  • And the trendy ones: O bambán do Solpor and the one in Terra Brava Wineries. These are two swings with views, a delight for instagramers and bloggers. The one in Terra Brava Wineries is the only private one, only accessible as part of the visit to the wine cellars. 

And the points of view

How many places did you visit from different heights? You can do that on Ribeira Sacra! 

From top to bottom: 

Hot Air Balloon at Ribeira Sacra in Spain.
Hot Air Balloon at Ribeira Sacra in Spain. Image credit: aerotours
  • Fly over the vineyards, with the sunrise as a witness. Jump into a hot air balloon and float over the landscape. There are three companies offering this incredible experience that will take you on a flight for about an hour. 
  • Drive up and down along the mountains, stopping at the viewpoints and immersing in the scenery. 
  • Get a boat ride. Navigate the water of River Sil, or Miño. A pleasant travel among damns will be perfect at sunset. Companies operate at one and other side of the main rivers. 

The monasteries around Ribeira Sacra

The area is considered the main concentration of rural romanesque in Europe, with 85 romanesque monasterios, 18 of which you can visit.

Why so many, and what was the purpose of building them?

The fertile lands, the mystery, retreat and peace of the area attracted monastic orders from the beginning of Cristianity. We can now follow their footprints trying to find the same pleasure in such a serene retreat.

Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil, Santa Cristina de Ribas de Sil and San Pedro de Rocas are the most remarkable monasteries, the “must see” of the region.

Santo Estevo is placed in the heart of Ribeira Sacra, and was one of the most powerful monasteries in the area: nine bishops decided to spend their last days in it.

It preserves a baroque façade, a church with a romanesque apse and three cloisters of different periods: Renaissance, Romanesque and Gothic. The monastery is nowadays a luxurious hotel (it belongs to the prestigious Spanish Paradores hotels chain), where you can eventually stay. 

Book at night at Santa Estevo here.

Monastery of Santa Cristina De Ribas de Sil

Santa Cristina de Ribas de Sil is one of those magic places that will remain in your memories. Surrounded by a chestnut forest, this monastery, built on the latest XI century, stands above a meander of Sil river.

San Pedro de Rocas (Saint Peter of the Rocks), it looks like being smelt on the rocks. It was probably one of the first places were the lonely life of eremites became a community life. 

The vineyards in Ribeira Sacra

Ribeira Sacra lives with and for the wine. The Romans found gold in these lands, but left us something in exchange. They probably combined the indigenous grapevines with the mediterranean ones, obtaining better vines. What is more, it is said that the Caesars demanded those wines. The tradition continued with the monks improving and promoting the wine activity, cultivating rough pieces of land, at angles of 50 to 85%. Some of them are still only accesible by boat. Wine cultivation became the economic source in those times, what still is. 

To visit a Ribeira Sacra winery is absolutely necessary to understand the way of living of the locals. There are many small wine cellars, family businesses, distributed in the three wine areas: Amandi, Ribeira do Miño and Ribeira do Sil.

Just pick one (or two, or three), and let your senses go. 

The traditional towns of Ribeira Sacra

Are there big cities in the area? Fortunately not, so tranquility is guaranteed. But there are three towns and a city you should visit.

Monforte de Lemos

Being node of rails, made Monforte a city. It is located in the geographical center of Ribeira Sacra, a good choice to stay in and plan day trips from there. Don’t leave the city without walking along River Cabe and discovering the Galician Escorial: Nuestras Señora de la Antigua, the old castle and the Tower keep.

Portomarin

Portomarín is an important village on the Way of St. James. I use to say that the Way works as the railway for rural towns: it makes life to flourish. People open small restaurants, hotels, shops. Some cities and villages appeared during the Middle Ages because of the Way.

But, pay attention: the Portomarin you can visit nowadays, that’s the new town. The old one is submerged under the waters of the reservoir. The main buildings, including the church of St. John, were previously moved, stone by stone, to its new location. 

Chantada

Chantada

A traditional town with some romanesque treasures. The main square is surrounded by traditional houses with wooden balconies and porches. If you are lucky enough to visit Chantada on a Fairy day, 5 or 21 of every month, you will be immersed in an authentic experience: the market as in the old times.

A bunch of romanesque churches will complete the visit: the churches of San Salvador of Asma, Santa María of Pesqueiras, or Santa María of Nogueira. 

Castro Caldelas watches River Edo from the top of a hill. To reach the castle, placed in the center of the village, you’ll need to walk up winding cobbled streets lost in time. And once again, feel lucky to be here. 

The nature in Ribeira Sacra

You will soon discover that Ribeira Sacra is a paradise for ramblers.

There are many incredible walking trails in the area. You can follow anyone near your hotel, but I would like to recommend three ones: 

The River Mao canyon trail
  • Santa Cristina Trail (you can find it as PR-G 98), circular, with great views of the river Sil canyon and cultural patrimony. 
  • Belesar vineyards trail ( PR-G 183), easy and short trail crossing vineyards. 
  • River Mao canyon trail (PR-G 177), my favourite trail. Circular trail that demands some effort, but is completely worth it. 

The cuisine

Gastro tourists could choose Ribeira Sacra only as a gastro destination, and be gratefully surprised by the quality and variety of the local dishes and wines. But even if you are not a gastro tourist, you will need to eat between one outing and another. 

Octopuss a Feira, or Galician Style

Meat lovers would be in so luck here. Best quality pork (shoulders, ham, chorizo), veal (T-bone steak, sirloin), goat meat, big and small game hunting are offered on its tables. Naturally, all of these meats, usually roasted, pair perfectly with the local red wines of Ribeira Sacra.

If you enjoy fish, trout’s are caught locally, but there’s also a deep tradition to eat European eel and octopus A Feira (Galician style). 

Locals gather excellent mushrooms and chestnuts in the forests and prepare delicious garnishes with them. Chestnuts are a common ingredient in the dessert recipe books, sometimes combined with honey and cheese. 

Try Bica de Trives or Bica de Castro Caldelas. Bica is a traditional moist sponge cake prepared with pork butter. You can have it as a breakfast or as a dessert, going with coffee liquor – an ancient tradition in the area. 

Sleep with the serenity of a monk

There is an amazing range of unconventional accommodations in Ribeira Sacra. 

What about sleeping in a former monastery? Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil is a spectacular former monastery reconverted into a 4 stars hotel.

Parador Santo Estevo, Ribeira Sacra, Spain.
Parador Santo Estevo, Ribeira Sacra, Spain.

Or in a winery? Rectoral de Anllo offers the possibility to relax surrounded by vineyards.

Or in a former rectory? Reitoral de Chandrexa is an ecological cozy rural hostel, with only 3 bedrooms. 

Besides, there are plenty of rural authentic accommodation, a wide range where to pick.

Ribeira Sacra is one of the most complete destinations. Experienced travellers will still find it astonishing. It will leave you with a full stomach, a smile in your lips and a satisfied heart. I promise. It happens to me every time I visit.

Looking for more unique places to visit in Spain? Check out these posts:


Reggia di Caserta: A Hidden Gem of Italy

When traveling to the southern half of Italy there are many sights to see.

You might want to soak up the sun off of the Amalfi Coast, visit the ghost town of Pompeii, or even see the volcano that caused its dismay from the Bay of Naples in the bustling city.

But, what if I told you that some of the best sights are off the beaten path that previous tourists have paved? A great example of this is a palace hidden away in southern Italy. Most people know it as “the place they filmed Star Wars”, but there is so much more to it than that!

Reggia di Caserta: The Hidden Gem

Nestled away in a small town named Caserta is the Reggia di Caserta, which translates to Royal Palace of Caserta in English.

Caserta lies in the Campania region of Italy, and is located less than an hour from the city of Naples. This region is best known for its rugged coastlines and rich historic sights, which the place is no exception to.

Reggia di Caserta began its construction in 1752 by Charles VII of Naples. The palace wasn’t finished until the 1800’s when his son decided to take over and complete the lifelong project. The finished product came with 5 floors, 1,200 rooms, and a 120 hectares long park.

Today, the palace is recognized as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. This means that the palace has cultural significance to the country and the citizens that live here.

So, why should you visit Reggia di Caserta?

  • Next, you get to explore the 120-hectares of fountains and shrubbery that extend behind the palace. You will find locals jogging along the reflecting pools, getting in their daily workout. You will also find families having picnics among the luscious grass and hedges.

    As you explore the land behind the palace it will become clear that Reggia di Caserta is a place where residences of the town like to spend their day. The beauty of this space holds something for all ages; shade for adults to relax and a small play castle for children to exhaust their imagination!

    At the very back of the park you will find the fountain of Diana and Acteon. This fountain beautifully illustrates the Roman tale of the two, and adds to the magical element of the palace.

  • I have a secret tip for you! Above this grand fountain you will see a tower sitting atop of the cascading water. If you are lucky, the stairs to the tower will be open; which are located to the right and left of the Diana and Acteon sculptures. If you are one of the lucky ones to make the ascend, you will see the Palace from above; just as Luigi Vanvitelli meant for those to see his completed work.
  • Another thing to check out is the English Garden. After walking to the very back of the park you will notice a path to your right. This path leads to the botanical garden which houses plants and flowers from around the world, beautiful sculptures, and hidden waterfalls.

    You can walk around and see the actual ruins of Pompeii that were transported to the 24-hectare garden, just adding to its beauty. Stop and take a walk through the Cryptoporticus, which is masterfully replicated to look like a Pompeiian ruin.

    If you are looking for a place to rest, take a seat next to the Bath of Venus. Admire the statue of Venus as she dips into the pond, and take in the breathtaking waterfall while kicking back and relaxing.

  • So, I talked about what there is to do in the daytime at the palace, but what about in the evening? At night, the palace shuts its doors to everyone, the business is closed for another day. But, the square welcomes locals and visitors to mingle on the grounds.

    Many nights I would sit at the square with my friend, drinking wine and eating food, while talking to the other locals. We would light sparklers and set off paper lanterns, it truly was magical! 

    At night, the palace is lit up every color you can imagine, even the colors of the Italian flag!

Overall, Reggia di Caserta is a sight that most travelers do not know about. It is a hidden gem nestled in a town that is a sight to see itself.

When traveling it’s important to see the sights you want, but it’s also amazing to see the sights many do not know about!


Scotland’s Golf field

Scotland’s Golf Courses – Breathtaking Hidden Gems You Need to Include in Your Travel Plans

 

Even though the origins of the game are unclear, most historians accept that modern-day golf originated in Scotland during the middle ages.

Various early versions of golf existed throughout Europe, where the objective was to put a ball inside a hole a few hundred yards away with the least number of strokes. In Scotland, the game was first played on linksland, a specific kind of coastal land with a wind-sculpted terrain, near present-day Edinburgh. The first documentation of golf in Scotland was in 1457 when King James II banned the sport because it was leading to a neglect of military practices. However, people mostly ignored the ban.

Golf gained the royal popularity when King James IV of Scotland became the first monarch to play golf. In the modern world, everyone who has even yielded a golf club has a wish to visit the Scottish golf courses. Scotland is not only famous for its golf courses located at spectacular locations, but also for the taste of Scottish hospitality at the clubhouses, also known as the 19th hole.

When golfers from all over the world consider a visit to Scottish golf courses, the immediate names that come to mind are the historic layouts of St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Dornoch, and Muirfield. Then on the list would be Troon, Prestwick, Turnberry, Kingsbarn, and Castle Stuart, not necessarily in that order. Scotland has over 600 golf courses, packed into a small country.

When someone is making a trip of a lifetime across the Atlantic, it is natural to wish to tick the iconic golfing destinations off your list. But if you are looking for an alternative golf tour experience at a much more serene and quieter location, there are many hidden gems with stunning views and unsurpassable quality. Many companies provide tailor-made luxury golf tours of Scotland. These Scotland golf packages are made to satisfy every golfer’s requirements and their budget. So next time you are planning a golfing tour to the land where the game was born, look out for these names.

Nairn Golf Course

Nairn is a small town situated on the edge of Moray Firth, 16 miles away from Inverness. Nairn is home to a championship links course which hosted the Walker Cup in 1999 and is one of the finest courses located in the highlands. The course has an interesting variety, with stunning views of the water throughout the course. It is a must-play for anyone planning to visit Dornoch or Castle Stuart.

The Balcomie Links at Crail Golf Club

Many visitors notice Crail along the coastline when they are at the 12th tee at Kingsbarns Links. But sadly most of them do not think of coming over to the 7th oldest golf club of the world. Crail golfing society has two spectacular courses. Balcomie Links is the older of the two and can boast of stunning vistas of the Firth of Forth.

Shiskine

The 12 hole course at Shiskine located on the Isle of Arran will make you want to forget everything about conventional golf. You will be blown away by the beautiful scenery around you as much as the design of the course. Tucked away in a small coastal village of Blackwater foot, the course overlooks the Mull of Kintyre. It was designed by Willie Fernie who is well known for designing Royal Troon and Turnberry. The layout climbs over Durmadoon point to the top of the cliff and then slopes down along the coastline.

Brora Golf Club

Brora is a classic links course that might be a little out of the way but is worth it as a phenomenal course. It is located a bit far north, about 16 miles from Dornoch. The small village of Brora is a wonderful experience in itself. The course is said to be one of James Braid’s finest and has been preserved in its original condition which gives you a sense of stepping back into time when the game was just invented.

Glen Golf Course, North Berwick

The county of East Lothian is one of the most famous golfing destinations in the world. Therefore it is quite surprising that there are still a few hidden gems along this glorious golfing coastline. Glen is a perfect example of an extraordinary course existing in the shadows of a famous one. The reference is meant for the North Berwick golf course. Glen might not be a very long course, but it certainly makes up for that with exhilarating views of the Bass Rock with Firth of Forth in the backdrop.

Boat of Garten

The course is dubbed as the Gleneagles of the north. With a backdrop of the Cairngorms mountains, Boat of Garten is situated right in Scotland’s most popular winter sports destination. A series of holes spread across a gorgeous undulating terrain with the mountains in the background might just give you the sense of playing in paradise.

Just a Few of the Hidden Gem of Scotland Golf Courses

Although these are only a few of the hidden gems amongst Scotland’s golf courses, they deserve to be included in your itinerary as much as the well-known ones. Each of these golf courses is beautifully located, challenging, and is worthy of ranking amongst the best golf courses in the world that offer a true taste of golf.